Agriculture is still very much the main industry in Viñales, but tourism is a very close second. When in Viñales a tour of a tobacco farm is a must, even if like me, you don’t smoke the stuff.
There are lots of tour operators that will offer a tour of a farm or you can arrange a tour privately through you local casa owner. Ours was just a fairly quick tour, but still gave us a good understanding on the growing process. Tobacco plant seeds a very tine and fine and planting happens in the winter.
Once harvested, about 6-8 weeks after planting, the leaves need to be cured, fermented, and aged, all of which takes a total of one year (in some cases aging continues past the two-year point!). Due to the microclimate found in the Viñales area, the soil is full of flavour, which helps the Cuban tobacco to stand out from the rest of the world. Each tobacco farm is required to send 90% of their harvest to the state and the remaining 10% is theirs to use and sell locally. Each farmer has their own recipe for fermenting and aging, our farmer uses pineapple as one of the ingredients.
Once the leaves are ready, cigars are rolled by hand. Firstly, the leaves are stripped of their main veins as they contain 70% or so of the nicotine (the veins don’t go to waste, as they are used as fertilizer, pesticide, and other items) and then are expertly rolled into cigars. The outer layer gets particular attention to ensure it is even and seamless. Then each cigar gets rolled into some paper for further aging, anywhere from a month to a year, before it is ready to be enjoyed.
Traditional methods are used to plant, grow and harvest the tobacco plants as mechanical methods will have an affect on the quality of the soil and the plants, which would devalue the harvest, so Cubans are sticking to their time honored traditions of using ox and horse.
When buying cigars outside of Viñales make sure you go to a Casa del Habano, the official Cuban cigar shop, they can be found all over Cuba, and in Havana they are also to be found in some of the modern hotels. Under no circumstance (unless it is for research) should you buy cigars from a street vendor. The cigars offered are fakes and are usually made from banana leaves (wrapped in a tobacco leaf) or substandard tobacco leaves that would not pass the quality control of the regular factories. As everywhere in the world these fakes look very realistic, and the price is very attractive, but you will be deeply disappointed once you light up!